Gordon, Emily Fox. Book of Days: Personal Essays. Spiegel & Grau New York 2010. Memoir; 2/11.
I learned “personal essay” as the name of this genre, the extended version which is called memoir. The author (whom I expected for some reason to be aristocratically dry and academic) is Jewish and bad-girl-nerdy, and takes us in a personally revealing way through a difficult childhood, worse adolescence, troubled young adulthood, and a hostile marriage, all overshadowed by years and years of what sounds like psychoanalytic psychotherapy.
In the end, she becomes on paper the writer she’s always been in her mind, and everything turns out just fine. But on the way we get maybe a bit too much of her troubled inner life and neediness. There are also several places where it’s obvious that the book is cobbled together from independently published material. Each of the three times for example her favorite therapist appears we get an explanation of who he is. I’d say she or an editor chould have straightened this out…
She talks about personal essays joined by bridges, but the book seems to finish as if one of the bridges has been washed away. There is a touching passage right at the end that would do for the final paragraph or two of a short story, but doesn’t make it as the last run at variations on a theme for an entire book. She is a lovely writer though, and for somebody like me I have to keep alert to avoid the self-reproach of “I wish I’d said that”, every time she pops an unexpectedly brilliant figurative flash. But again it’s hard to ignore her use of the same figure of speech a couple of times. Overall the content is a bit tough going in spots and I would say the editing was rushed, but the writing is pretty spectacular. It’s a 7.1/8.6 split for me.